<
>

Quiet Falcons locker room could benefit from Sean Weatherspoon's strong voice

Sean Weatherspoon hasn’t changed.

He still speaks in a booming tone that lets you know he’s in the room, even if you don’t want to hear him. He still has boyish enthusiasm that transforms him into a media darling.

Weatherspoon has enough jokes to pass as a stand-up comedian. Like Wednesday, when the Atlanta Falcons linebacker took the podium and talked about how he’s tried to get his body back into form following a career marred by injuries.

"They call me the supplement man around here," said the 28-year-old Weatherspoon, who missed the entire 2014 season with an Achilles tear. "I'm always pouring something in a bottle. But I'll tell you what: It's legal."

Weatherspoon also possesses a serious, passionate, no-nonsense side that makes others want to follow his lead. Such is the side of Weatherspoon the Falcons, with an influx of new veterans and inexperienced youngsters, will need most going into the 2016 season.

Sure, Weatherspoon, the Falcons’ 19th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, wants to revive his career and contribute at inside linebacker following a one-year hiatus to Arizona. At the same time, Weatherspoon returned with no real expectations regarding a starting role or significant playing time. He knew even before re-signing that he'd have to earn everything on the field.

In the locker room, Weatherspoon's already earned respect from his first stint with the team.

"Spoon is a vocal leader," fellow linebacker Paul Worrilow said. "There is nothing fake about the emotion he brings to the game, and he certainly isn’t afraid to show it. Energy like that can be contagious and really benefit those around him."

Although fans would like to see the return of those "D-Block" episodes Weatherspoon made popular, his leadership is the must-see reality TV.

The Falcons lack strong voices. Collectively, they know it.

Although the team said it valued the leadership of all-time leading receiver Roddy White, it obviously wasn’t enough to keep White from getting cut. One of the other vocal players from last season, outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, remains unsigned, although the door remains open for his return.

Worrilow leads more by actions than words. Veteran defensive lineman Tyson Jackson spoke up on occasion last season, but those words don't have as much impact coming from a part-time player at a not-so-glamorous position. And now-departed strong safety William Moore might have been the ringleader last year had he not been injured and had he not struggled adjusting to Dan Quinn's defense.

Quarterback Matt Ryan took a significant step in the leadership department during a players-only meeting last season when he stood up in front of the group and admitted the new offense was overwhelming. Then Ryan took another step this offseason when he paid for a group of teammates to get together in South Florida for workout sessions. The best leadership Ryan can show, however, is to consistently play at a high level and avoid turnovers.

Wide receiver Julio Jones is the team’s best player, yet typically goes about his business quietly. If he suddenly becomes more outspoken, the others are certain to take his message to heart. Running back Devonta Freeman also has the potential to evolve into a leadership role.

And there is talk about defensive rookies Keanu Neal and Deion Jones emerging as leaders eventually -- particularly Jones, if he surpasses Worrilow in the middle and has to call out the signals. Weatherspoon already praised what he’s seen from Jones in the linebacker room, although he’s not ready to call Jones by his nickname of "Debo" until the rookie earns it.

Weatherspoon needs to re-establish his own name and make sure he secures a roster spot with the Falcons -- who are obviously looking to be younger and faster at the position. As long as he’s in the fold, Weatherspoon will have a strong voice.

But with new teammates and new coaches, will he change his approach?

"I don’t think you have to change it up a little bit," Weatherspoon said. "First of all, these guys haven’t been around me that much. Coming in, my mindset is just `work, work, work.’ I’m coming in to work and get better. So there’s not a lot to talk about right now.

"I encourage my teammates that are going through drills. That’s always been me. Smile on my face, that’s always been me. That’s not going to change. And we’ve started to get out on the field a little bit more. I think the thing with that -- if you want to be a loquacious leader -- you’ve got to go out there and make sure you’re doing your job on the field. So right now, where I am in my playbook as I continue to progress with that, that will allow me to be myself. But I’m always going to have fun out there. I’m always going to get guys going, get guys revved up because enthusiasm is free. And even fake enthusiasm can cause some good things."

Weatherspoon was named a team captain for the Falcons in the past. No doubt it would mean something special to earn the title again.

"Of course it would," he said. "That’s the highest honor."